The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef – Here are My Five Lessons and Takeaways

The Scout Mindset• In scout mindset, there’s no such thing as a “threat” to your beliefs. If you find out you were wrong about something, great—you’ve improved your map, and that can only help you.
• Let’s recap. In soldier mindset, our thinking is guided by the question “Can I believe it?” about things we want to accept, and “Must I believe it?” about things we want to reject.
• In scout mindset, our thinking is guided by the question “Is it true?”
• Scout mindset: the motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were.  
• Scout mindset is what allows you to recognize when you are wrong, to seek out your blind spots, to test your assumptions and change course. It’s what prompts you to honestly ask yourself questions like “Was I at fault in that argument?” or “Is this risk worth it?” As the late physicist Richard Feynman once said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”  
• This book is about the less explored side of that coin, the times we succeed in not fooling ourselves, and what we can learn from those successes.
• Knowing that you should test your assumptions doesn’t automatically improve your judgment, any more than knowing you should exercise automatically improves your health. — • Being able to rattle off a list of biases and fallacies doesn’t help you unless you’re willing to acknowledge those biases and fallacies in your own thinking.  
• Being in scout mindset means wanting your “map”—your perception of yourself and the world—to be as accurate as possible.
• And it means always being open to changing your mind in response to new information.
• They’re more conscious of the possibility that their map of reality could be wrong, and more open to changing their mind. …This book is about what those people are doing right, and what we can learn from them to help us move from soldier to scout ourselves.   
• It’s as if you’re hanging a sign around your neck: “Under New Management.”
• Sometimes we choose soldier mindset, furthering our emotional or social goals at the expense of accuracy. Sometimes we choose scout mindset, seeking out the truth even if it turns out not to be what we were hoping for. 
Julia Galef: The Scout Mindset


We are in something of a “re-think stuff” moment.

For example:
We got a lot wrong when the pandemic hit. Starting with: we did not heed the warnings, that really were sounded loud and clear, that a pandemic was going to come at us. And, when it arrived, we did not heed the warnings that it was going to be bad. Some got it really wrong: a Stanford professor named John Ioannidis predicted, in the Spring of 2020, that the virus would kill no more than 10,000 in the U.S.  The death toll in the U.S. is over 600,000 as I type this.

So, if we are paying attention– and, for some, that is a big if – we should know by now that we can get some pretty big stuff wrong.  Badly wrong.  Dangerously wrong.

Now, about this re-think moment.  A couple of months ago at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What you Don’t Know by Adam Grant.  (Click here for my blog post: Think Again by Adam Grant – Here are my Six Lessons and Takeaways).

This month at our monthly event, I presented my synopsis of The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef. This book could practically be a companion volume to Think Again.   If you have time to read only one, I would probably go with Think Again.  But if you were to take time to read both, you would learn more, and you might more fully realize that you – yes, you – probably need to go back and re-visit some things; you need to think things through all over again; many times; many things. (And, yes; I need to do the same).

I divide my synopses into different parts, all with the intention of letting the content of the book itself speak to us.

I begin by asking “What is the point of the book?”  Here is how I worded the point of this book: You could be wrong. (OK – You are wrong). And, you could be your own worst enemy in staying wrong. You need a new mindset; the scout mindset; scouting for the “truth.”

And I ask “Why is this book worth our time?”  Her are my four answers for this book:
#1 – This book describes the reality of our divided country; where seemingly few minds ever change.
#2 – This book describes the way we fool ourselves about our own “rightness.”
#3 – This book beckons us to be much more honest, with ourselves; and to become perpetual, seekers of the better  if not the truth).
#4 – This book provides practical steps to follow to become a person with more of a scout mindset.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are quite a few of the ones I included in this synopsis from this book:

• The best description of motivated reasoning I’ve ever seen comes from psychologist Tom Gilovich. When we want something to be true, he said, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to accept it. When we don’t want something to be true, we instead ask ourselves, “Must I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to reject it. 
• Denial, wishful thinking, confirmation bias, rationalization, tribalism, self-justification, overconfidence, delusion. Motivated reasoning is so fundamental to the way our minds work that it’s almost strange to have a special name for it; perhaps it should just be called reasoning.   
• When considering a claim, we implicitly ask ourselves, “What kind of person would believe a claim like this, and is that how I want other people to see me?” 
• The nihilist isn’t trying to get other people to believe in nihilism. He’s trying to get them to believe that he believes in nihilism. 
• ARE WE RATIONALLY IRRATIONAL? …Are we any good at it? Are we good at intuitively weighing the costs and benefits of knowing the truth, in a given situation, against the costs and benefits of believing a lie?   
• As Francis Bacon said, “Hope is a good breakfast, but a bad supper.” 
• We underestimate the cumulative harm of false beliefs, and the cumulative benefit of practicing scout habits. We overestimate how much other people judge us, and how much impact their judgments have on our lives. As a result of all these tendencies, we end up being far too willing to sacrifice our ability to see clearly in exchange for short-term emotional and social rewards. 
• Living in the modern world also means we have many more opportunities to fix things we don’t like about our lives.
• If you’re bad at something, you can take classes, read a For Dummies book, watch a YouTube tutorial, get a tutor, or hire someone to do it for you.
• If your family is abusive, you can cut ties with them.
• Deciding which solutions are worth trying is a matter of judgment. Deciding which problems in your life are worth trying to solve at all, versus simply learning to live with, is a matter of judgment, too.
• After all, what’s the point of admitting your problems exist if you can’t fix them? What’s the point of noticing your disagreements with your community if you can’t leave?
• “I’m an objective person, so my views on gun control must be correct, unlike the views of all those irrational people who disagree with me,” we think.  
• Do you tell other people when you realize they were right? …I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong. 
• Do you ever prove yourself wrong?
• “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, “He would get us out of memories.” I stared at him, numb, then said, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?” 
• Putting a belief into the “70% sure” bucket is like saying, “This is the kind of thing I expect to get right roughly 70 percent of the time.” 
• Your answer will be more honest if you switch from thinking in terms of “What can I get away with claiming to myself?” to “How would I bet, if there was something at stake?”  (Note from RM – cf. Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb).
• One of the most fundamental human needs is to feel like things are basically okay: that we’re not failures, that the world isn’t a horrible place, and that whatever life throws at us, we’ll be able to handle it.  …That’s why most people in an emergency resort to various forms of motivated reasoning, like denial, wishful thinking, and rationalizing. The cruel irony is that an emergency is when you most need to be clear-eyed.   
• But scouts aren’t motivated by the thought, “This is going to succeed.” They’re motivated by the thought, “This is a bet worth taking.”
• Yet in practice, things often seem to work the other way around—accepting the possibility of failure in advance is liberating. It makes you bold, not timid.
Musk admitted that he actually feels fear very strongly. He’s just learned to manage that fear by coming to terms with the probability of failure.
• So in starting SpaceX, I thought the odds of success were less than 10 percent, and I just accepted that probably I would lose everything.”
• “You want to get into a mental state where if the bad outcome comes to pass, you will only nod your head and say ‘I knew this card was in the deck, and I knew the odds, and I would make the same bets again, given the same opportunities.’” 
• The math is brutal; a study by the Federal Trade Commission calculated that over 99 percent of people who sign up for an MLM end up with less money than they started with (in addition to losing all the time they put into it). 

Here are a number of the key points I included in my synopsis.  (Note: the statements below that are in italics are directly from the book): 

  • THE issue is self-awareness.
  • THE issue is self-deception.
  • A key factor preventing us from being in scout mindset more frequently is our conviction that we’re already in it.
  • When you start from the premise that you’re an objective thinker, you lend your conclusions an air of unimpeachability they usually don’t deserve.  
  • Your ability to see clearly is precious, and you should be reluctant to sacrifice it in exchange for emotional comfort.
  • You might fail:
  • some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs expected their companies to fail. Jeff Bezos put Amazon’s probability of success at about 30 percent.
  • You could be wrong:
  • For example, how can you tell when your own reasoning is biased? …the outsider test, the selective skeptic test, and the conformity test to examine your reasoning about what you believe and what you want. 
  • “I’m fair and objective – you, are not!”
  • The tricky thing about motivated reasoning is that even though it’s easy to spot in other people, it doesn’t feel like motivated reasoning from the inside. When we reason, it feels like we’re being objective. Fair-minded.
  • So we look for evidence to support, bolster, or buttress our position.
  • And if we do change our minds? That’s surrender.
  • The types of questions to ask:
  • At work, those tough questions might include: Do I really have to fire that employee? How much do I need to prepare for that presentation tomorrow? Is it best for my company to raise a lot of funding now or am I just tempted by the instant validation that raising funds would give me? Do I really need to keep improving this product before releasing it or am I just looking for reasons to put off taking the plunge? 
  • Chesterton’s fence:
  • I try to abide by the rule that when you advocate changing something, you should make sure you understand why it is the way it is in the first place. This rule is known as Chesterton’s fence,
  • You don’t want to change…you work against change
  • Comfort, self-esteem, and morale are emotional benefits, meaning that the ultimate target of our deception is ourselves. — Persuasion, image, and belonging are social benefits—in these cases, the ultimate target of our deception is other people, by way of ourselves.
  • Rather than boosting your self-esteem by denying your flaws, you could instead boost your self-esteem by noticing and fixing those flaws.
  • It’s easy to think, “Of course I change my mind in response to evidence,” or “Of course I apply my principles consistently,” or “Of course I’m fair-minded,” whether or not those things are true. …It’s whether you can point to concrete cases in which you did, in fact, do these things. …The only real sign of a scout is whether you act like one.
  • Still, a willingness to say “I was wrong” to someone else is a strong sign of a person who prizes the truth over their own ego.
  • First we persuade ourselves; Maybe, at times, we should question ourselves in the process…
  • When we need to persuade other people of something, we become motivated to believe it ourselves, and seek out arguments and evidence we could use in its defense.
  • Belonging matters…
  • all social groups have some beliefs and values that members are implicitly expected to share.
  • Fitting in isn’t only about conforming to the group consensus. It also means demonstrating your loyalty to the group by rejecting any evidence that threatens its figurative honor.
  • We make unconscious tradeoffs:
  • We trade off between judgment and belonging.
  • We trade off between judgment and persuasion.
  • We trade off between judgment and morale.
  • We make these trade-offs, and many more, all the time, usually without even realizing we’re doing so. After all, the whole point of self-deception is that it’s occurring beneath our conscious awareness.
  • Check your facts!
  • Every time you say, “Oh, that’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of that,” it gets a little bit easier for you to acknowledge good points in general. Every time you opt to check a fact before citing it, you become a little bit more likely to remember to check your facts in general.
  • Every time you’re willing to say, “I was wrong,” it gets a little bit easier to be wrong in general. 
  • Don’t kid yourself; don’t deceive yourself!
  • WE UNDERESTIMATE THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF SELF-DECEPTION  — “deception begets more deception.”
  • Just simply “update”
  • if you at least start to think in terms of “updating” instead of “admitting you were wrong,” you may find that it takes a lot of friction out of the process. An update is routine. Low-key.
  • All too often, we assume the only two possibilities are “I’m right” or “The other guy is right”—and since the latter seems absurd, we default to the former. …But in many cases, there’s an unknown unknown, a hidden “option C,” that enriches our picture of the world in a way we wouldn’t have been able to anticipate.
  • Hold your identity lightly
  • Holding an identity lightly means treating that identity as contingent, saying to yourself, “I’m a liberal, for as long as it continues to seem to me that liberalism is just.”

And, as I do at the end of all of my synopses, I end with my own lessons and takeaways.  Here are my Five Lessons and Takeaways from this book: 

#1 – Do begin to admit that you are wrong about some things.  Because…you are.
#2 – Learn to learn from more diverse sources. – Read more widely; watch and listen more widely.
#3 – Get much better at self-awareness. This is critical.
#4 – Become more aware of, and more honest about, your own biases.
#5 – Learn to place good bets.  Because, true certainty is pretty much unattainable.

I have no idea what you are wrong about.  But, I have no doubt that you are wrong about something… something important.

I am working on identifying where I am wrong about some things.  But, I confess, it is hard work, and sometimes it is slow going.

But this book, and Think Again by Adam Grant, have helped me realize anew my own unintentional, and at times, intentional blindness.  So, I have my own work to do.

What about you?  Are you never, ever wrong; about anything?  Or, are you willing to admit that you could be wrong about some things?  Are you willing to work on this yourself; actually, to work on yourself?

——————–Think Again

You can purchase my synopses presentations from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  On that page, you can search by book title. And click here for our newest additions.  My synopsis of Think Again is still near the top on this page.  The Scout Mindset will be added soon.

Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation made at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

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